Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Do Nothing, the Musical

Robert Hendrickson has alerted us to the publication of the hymnal revision survey results. And as he notes, one of the results that jumps out right away is that among the laity, almost 50% of those under 30 actively oppose revision. But this needs to be seen in context of a general lay resistance to revision, and the lack of active support for same. Looking at the age group populations again (Table 4 in the report), no age group shows more that 28% support for revision; the lowest expression of opposition is among the 40 year olds, of who "only" 44% are against revision.

I don't feel the need to go over the lay statistics in detail, except to note that the only groups where there is something approaching balance between opposition and support is in the black and native American subgroups. Most other lay results are unsurprising, though there is a strong positive correlation between parish size and opposition that one might not have expected. The clergy results, however, have some very surprising results. Working age clergy tend to favor revision, except for the under thirty set, who not only have some of the strongest opposition, but who are also the least neutral by far: 8% as compared with around 25% for most subgroups. There is a strong difference between the sexes here, with female clergy showing near 50% support (as opposed to the men, who lean towards opposition). Black and Latino clergy also show quite strong support for revision, the latter quite in contrast to the Latino laity.

The music directors patterns are odd: the biggest opposition is shown by those in their 30s, the most support by those in their 40s. They are more supportive of revision, but not to the degree of the clergy. Things get interesting again, however, in the usage statistics. Here there is a hidden problem in that the question was asked of the laity, who are probably unaware that there are almost always some hymns which organists prefer to play out of the 1940 hymnal, so usage of that is probably understated. Nevertheless the picture is clear that the 1982 hymnal remains the standard, with some supplemental use of LEVAS and WL&P (the "black" and "contemporary" books respectively). The survey of utility similarly comes out in favor of 1982; the survey analysis also notes that the clergy are much more negative about 1940 than the laity are.

I'm not sure how to interpret the stylistic results, because it's not entirely clear what the categories mean. Nonetheless, it is clear that most people want a "traditional" service, and most people get it too. One of the surprises here is the preference for sung psalms, which are also more common than I would have guessed. Again, the clergy come off as the most change-minded, and not surprisingly, they are the ones who like chant the most.

One quite surprising result is found in Table 50, where across the board there is a very strong preference expressed for singing as opposed to listening. Every group showed at least a 55% positive response. Another sign of our lack of "what's happening now" is the extremely strong preference for a physical hymnal in the form of a book.

And there's quite a bit more, of greater or lesser interest (for example, there is an extremely pressing need to come up with something for Province IX, where the existing Spanish language supplement is greatly disliked and is little used). However, after saying, "well, we need to think about changing anyway", the report admits the obvious: the support for revision among the laity simply isn't there. And it's also clear, as Hendrickson points out, that the conventional clerical view, that we need to change everything to get the young people into the church, is not borne out by the data.

Finally, I would personally observe that the liturgical output of the SCLM, as we see it in the blue book, does not give me a good feeling about how they would handle hymnal revision. On the contrary, it shows that they have tin ears, not to mention their propensity towards questionable theological novelties. It's best that we stick with what we have, and fortunately it looks as though, on this issue at least, the evidence is in favor of stability.

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